The buddy system


By: Sara Gila Margulies

The Hebrew word for partnership is shutfut, from the root “to share”. “Two is better than one” is an oft-repeated phrase[1] in the world at large. When two individuals join together to perform a task, their combined energies, talents, and efforts can help bring the project to fruition more effectively and efficiently. What is the significance of this? The Torah testifies to the fact that man was not created to remain alone. G-d Himself says, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will create for him a helper corresponding to him [a wife].” The purpose of our existence is ‘to help another’.[2] When we lend our hearts, our time, and our energies to others, in essence we are helping ourselves to become better, more giving people. Whether we are acting in the capacity of spouse, co-worker, neighbour, or friend, we are bringing G-dliness into the world, while simultaneously growing ourselves as individuals, through our reaching out and helping another person.

Interestingly, when we use our power of speech to make others feel good about themselves, whether with a compliment or with a warm word of encouragement, we are doing the same. Sometimes, a kind word can accomplish even more for both the giver and the recipient than a physical act of assistance! After all, physical help is often of a temporary nature (as soon as the task is completed, the assistance is no longer necessary), while a sincere word can be everlasting and life-changing for the one who hears it and recalls it over-and-over again. The receiver may never be the same again after hearing a positive remark from his spouse, employer, or whomever it may be.

An amazing story is told[3] by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky. Libby Engel was vacationing in Desert Springs, California. While taking a stroll on Shabbos afternoon, the oppressive heat compelled her to enter a nearby hotel lobby for some relief. Looking for a place to sit, she noticed a few elderly Jewish women huddled together and went to join them. As it turned out, one of the women was a neighbour of hers by the name of Freeda. The two began exchanging pleasantries. Suddenly, another elderly woman entered the lobby, and began to shout, “I know your voice!” The lobby went silent. The woman continued. “I remember that voice from Auschwitz! Your name is Freeda, isn’t it?” The elderly Freeda studied this woman carefully until suddenly recognition set in. “Devory? Is that you?” When she nodded, Freeda asked in amazement, “How did you remember my voice from so many years ago?” Devory smiled softly. “How could I forget that sweet voice? You were only around fourteen years old yet you used to walk over to the women in the barracks with a smile and a calmness that nobody else had. You would say to us, ‘My dear sisters, the Nazis think we are all crazy and they are going to kill us anyway, so why should we go around depressed? If G-d decides that we should die, then we will. Meanwhile, let’s try to be happy, even here. Let’s smile for each other and keep our spirits high. We can do it! We have to!’ It was you, dear Freeda, who brought smiles to our faces and cheered us up in that living Gehinom. Yours is the voice that brought us comfort in the most difficult of times. That’s why I will never forget it.”

As Rabbi Pruzansky points out at the conclusion of this moving story, “Freeda’s voice was one of hope in a time of utter hopelessness. Her words had the power to inspire those around her to go on living and to look forward to a brighter future.” Freeda understood the importance of helping others with encouraging words, thereby forming everlasting partnerships of dedication and love, even in the gehinom on Earth known as Auschwitz. Her kindness truly had the power to endure in both this world and the Next.

There is a reason that the world was created with millions of people inhabiting the planet. G-d wants us to reach out to as many individuals as we can and bring them into our circle of friendship with our care and concern. We are meant to form a shutfut – a partnership – with others as we share of ourselves with true love and kindness.

Before someone enters into a business partnership with another person, however, he has a right to inquire about the potential partner’s personality and past history to determine if that person is the right choice for such a partnership. Although the Chofetz Chaim dedicated an entire sefer (book) to the topic of the laws of guarding one’s tongue, he explicitly states that when one is considering the idea of entering into a serious partnership, whether business or marriage-related, discreet inquiries are allowed. This is permissible and even advisable, provided that the person clearly explains to the people to whom he is directing his questions that he needs the information for the purpose of entering a partnership with the individual in question. This will ensure that the information is given over accurately, while preventing the people being questioned from flippantly relating negative information that may unnecessarily harm the person in question.

Clearly, a partnership is something to be taken seriously. It involves one’s complete dedication to a task while working together with another person. As such, by bringing others into our expanding circle of friends through our kind words and concern for their welfare, we are forming endless partnerships, with all the responsibility, devotion, and yes, tremendous satisfaction that this entails.

  1. Likely borrowed from Kohelet 4:9: “Better two than one…”
  2. See introduction to Nefesh Hachaim
  3. Stories for the Jewish Heart Book 2 (Artscroll, 2007)

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